As a first-generation student, Carla Flamenco ’22 remembers feeling intimidated by higher education. During her first week as an undergraduate student at California State University, Channel Islands, her orientation leader made her feel safe, reassured, and hopeful for the future. Now, she’s doing the same for University of Redlands students.
Currently pursuing a master’s degree in the University of Redlands School of Education Department of Leadership and Higher Education, Flamenco takes what she learns in the classroom and applies it to her work as a community coordinator for the U of R Fairmont and Grossmont residence halls, where she lives full-time.
Increasing her ability to make a difference was one of her objectives when she was deciding which graduate program to enroll in. “I liked that the School [of Education]’s mission was inclusive and diversity-focused,” she says. “That was one of my goals: to build a system that works for everyone and helps students of color. Being at the U of R has challenged me to think outside the box.”
For Flamenco, a normal day at work consists of meeting with other community coordinators on campus, checking in with the five resident advisors (RA) that she supervises, talking with students, and being a part of the Student COVID-19 Case Team.
Understandably, the pandemic added unforeseen complexities to residential life. As a member of the Case Team, she works with other staff members to guide students through the protocol that comes with a positive test result, from reporting a case to contact tracing and checking in on students while they’re in isolation.
At the beginning of the school year, Flamenco was apprehensive about life on a residential campus in the wake of a public health crisis. But witnessing the community’s resilience has given her a new perspective.
“Living on campus is a whole other world,” she says, noting that the best part of her job is being able to watch students have new experiences. “Students are in a moment of transition; they’re living on their own, figuring things out, and moving from a year of online classes to in-person instruction all at once. It’s all about being there for them.”
With safety restrictions in place, students are still able to gather and attend events indoors while wearing face coverings. Flamenco’s priority is supporting her team of RAs so that they can do the same for their residents.
“Students are still learning to step outside their comfort zones, while also dealing with unseen challenges, whether that be mental health, losing someone during the pandemic, or something else,” she says. “I want them to be able to have the college experience they were expecting by building relationships and a dynamic of support with them.”
Learning about herself
Watching students learn about themselves has in turn made Flamenco more introspective. Through her experiences at Redlands, she has cultivated a well of patience “for herself and others,” saying, “there is always going to be something that I have to overcome.”
Her spirit of perseverance has been fueled by people she has met on campus. Specifically, Alesha Knox, Flamenco’s fieldwork course instructor, and Professor Adriana Alvarado have been supportive academically and encouraged her involvement in the Graduate Student Association.
“Seeing all of the barriers and accomplishments in the lives of these two women of color has made a huge impact on me,” she says. “I’ve learned to stay true to myself and that I’m capable,” she says.
At the same time, Flamenco values the relationships she has built with her team. In addition to supporting students, the six community coordinators support each other and have created a work environment where everyone feels valued, accepted, and heard.
Flamenco’s hope is that she can have the same effect on students. “I want students to know that they’re capable of making their own mark on the U of R,” she says. “Student voices are very powerful, and they can create change. It’s our responsibility to make sure that change can happen.”
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